Flashback: How Rangers Roared to Doha Delirium
When the 2019 Al Kass International Cup got underway on Monday 4th February, a glance at the Daily News revealed several strong contenders to be tournament victors: Paris Saint-Germain, with three competition wins to their name; Real Madrid, with their famed ‘Factory’ youth production line; and Bayern Munich alongside AS Roma, two more of European football’s biggest names.
Few observers would have chosen Rangers FC to join this illustrious quartet as potential winners. British sides – let alone Scottish ones – had generally fared badly in previous Al Kass tournaments, with only Arsenal achieving a top four finish, back in 2015.
Furthermore, the Glaswegians had experienced a dramatic fall from grace over the previous decade, forced into bankruptcy and made to fight their way back from the fourth tier of the Scottish game.
However, the fabled club’s fortunes had begun to turn around upon promotion to the Scottish Premier League in 2016. And, at around the same time, its youth system underwent a fundamental remodelling. Rangers Academy developed an innovative strategy designed to modernise development, with basic economics dictating that the club would need to rely on homegrown players rather than expensive recruits. As Al Kass 2019 got underway, the wider world was about to witness the astounding success of this new-found philosophy.
Wednesday 6th February: Rangers Romp Home Against 10-Man Raja
The young Glaswegians embarked upon their glorious Al Kass odyssey with a straightforward win over Raja Casablanca of Morocco. Displaying a strong organisational sense that would serve them well throughout the tournament, Rangers notched three goals without reply against a Moroccan side who had been reduced to 10 men midway through the first half.
The game was chiefly memorable for announcing the arrival of Nathan Young-Coombes onto the Aspire Zone stage. The bustling striker had been signed from Chelsea on the eve of the 2019 Al Kass tournament, and wasted no time in demonstrating why he was held in such high regard. He provided an assist for Cole McKinnon to open the scoring on the quarter-hour as part of a livewire performance that left Casablanca’s defenders tied in knots.
Friday 8th February: Aspire Hit The Right Notes With Victory Over Rangers
Rangers’ progress was temporarily halted by an accomplished Aspire Academy side, with Young-Coombes initially watching proceedings unfold from the bench. Captain Kai Kennedy, who had impressed with a goal in the opener against Raja, continued to show his quality from midfield, but Aspire were not to be denied.
Despite Young-Coombes belatedly entering the fray, it was Aspire striker Fahad Al-Abdulla who stole the headlines, plundering two goals as the young Qataris ran out 3-1 winners. And, by beating the Scottish outfit, Aspire achieved a feat that no other side would match at Al Kass 2019. Ultimately though, the scoreline mattered little, as both teams proceeded to the knockout phase at the expense of Raja Casablanca.
Sunday 10 February: Rangers Demolish ESS To Send Shockwaves Through Al Kass
Rangers’ reverse against Aspire was quickly forgotten, as they suddenly clicked into top gear and handed out a thrashing to Ecoile Sportive du Sahel. The result was all the more impressive given that the Tunisians had previously accounted for Bayern Munich.
The match was notable not only for its 7-0 scoreline, but also because it featured two hat-tricks. The first was claimed by Young-Coombes, displaying a potency that ESS simply could not live with. And, astonishingly, when he was withdrawn on the hour mark, replacement Christopher McKee also helped himself to three goals.
Rangers’ goalscoring prowess was apparent for all to see. However, it was also clear that they possessed real quality throughout their squad. Greater tests lay ahead, but the young Scots had shown that they were now the team to fear. In fact, the result would have even more one-sided had it not been for the heroics of Tunisian keeper Ahmed Slimen, who produced several world-class saves to prevent the score reaching double figures.
Wednesday 13 February: Rangers Produce Performance of Tournament to Crush Kashiwa
Rangers powered into the final of Al Kass 2019, overpowering Kashiwa Reysol by five goals to one with a performance that combined attacking panache, defensive discipline and total commitment to the cause.
In a clear sign of Rangers’ strength in depth, Christopher McKee was named as one of the substitutes, despite having come off the bench to score a hat-trick in the 7-0 demolition of ESS. Of course, the player he had replaced on that occasion – Nathan Young-Coombes – had also scored three, and arguably carried the greatest threat of their potent frontline.
It was no surprise to see Young-Coombes score again - the second goal of the game and his fourth of the tournament – but it was captain Kai Kennedy who stole the show by grabbing a brace and displaying a quality that the Japanese youngsters could not match. The 5-1 win was rich reward for another commanding Rangers performance, and they strode into the final oozing self-belief.
Video message from Rangers FC Manager Steven Gerrard on day of final
“I just want to say congratulations on an incredible tournament so far. We watched the semi-final yesterday, and we thought the performance was outstanding. Everyone stood up to the challenge, and we just want to send a message from back home to wish you all the best in the final. The same type of performance, I’m sure, it’ll be good enough against Roma. We’re all proud of you back home, and I’m sure all your families are as well. Go and grab it now – no regrets in the final. Good luck.”
Friday 15 February: Rangers Crowned Al Kass Champions After Fantastic Final
The final of the 2019 Al Kass International Cup was the greatest ever, according to those who have watched the tournament since its inception in 2012. From start to finish, Rangers went toe-to-toe with Roma, with top-quality football played throughout.
Going into the game, it was difficult to pick a favourite. The Scots had scored 16 in four, while the Italians had scored 12 and won all four of their previous matches. And, alongside the obvious quality, the game was also notable for the highly competitive approach, with the tackles flying in from the first whistle. Indeed, each side would have a player sent off before the first half was over.
Roma had gone ahead midway through the first half, but Rangers refused to surrender, and equalised in stunning fashion on the hour mark thanks to Ciaran Dickson’s stunning strike from a tight angle.
Ultimately, the teams could not be separated over 90 minutes, and a penalty shootout ensued, which was highly dramatic in its own right. All 10 players still on the field took spot kicks – including the goalkeepers – before Kai Kennedy coolly stroked home the decisive effort to spark pandemonium on the pitch.
The Rangers youngsters returned to Glasgow as conquering heroes, and proudly paraded the Al Kass trophy before a capacity crowd at Ibrox. Soon, there were reports linking the young players with transfers to some of the biggest clubs in Europe but, for the time being, the squad remains intact, with the stars of Doha intent on attracting the eye of senior manager Steven Gerrard.
The Rangers Class of 2020 has plenty to live up to, but if they take a leaf out of the book of the 2019 champions, they will fear no one at Al Kass.